Beyond the Books: Iowa City taking proactive approach to cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is an issue districts across eastern Iowa are combating.

School may still be out for summer, but the break away from the classroom doesn't mean the bullying stops.

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are providing a platform for children to target other children.

Cyberbullying is on the radar of many school districts across eastern Iowa, and the Iowa City Community School District is using summer to search for solutions.

"It's one of those situations kind of, speaking really frankly, that we need to spend or we need to move a significant amount resources to combat," said Kingsley Botchway, the district's director of equity.

Botchway said issues related to bullying start to emerge near the end of elementary school and continue all the way throughout high school.

While school staff can intervene when harassment manifests in the hallways, the internet creates obstacles, shielding the bully in some ways.

As districts move more toward one-on-one technology, the risks associated with cyberspace continue to pose serious threats for students.

Bullying behind a screen frequently turns into something more.

"When you see the fights, when you see some of the other altercations, verbal aggression, physical aggression, those primarily come from some type of social media action or occurrence," said Botchway.

The district is drastically ramping up its efforts to get ahead of the digital problem.

Madie Miller, who is serving as a district intern, is spearheading a campaign to educate incoming students on how to be responsible users of social media.

"It's so immediate, it can reach a wide audience instantly, and it can be permanent," said Miller of social media, which is precisely why the training is so critical.

Botchway said cyberbullying is growing, and he believes the numbers still don't reflect the reach of internet harassment, as some victims may be afraid to come forward.

Stigmas surrounding looking like a coward or the fear of retaliation may play a role in the underreporting, Botchway suggests.

The district is aiming to shatter those stigmas, encouraging students who may be experiencing harassment to file a grievance on the district's website.

The complaint, along with any subsequent investigation, remains completely confidential, protecting the reporting student from additional damage.

In extreme cases, law enforcement is asked to take action.

Scott Gaarde, the public information officer for the Iowa City Police Department, said bullying "can escalate to criminal charges such as harassment, even up to assaults."

Gaarde said those types of charges are a last resort.

Regardless of police involvement on the back-end, the partnership between the district and the police department is one Botchway said prevents more instances of bullying, as the proactive interventions create a system of consequences.

Click here for the Iowa City Community School District's harassment page, where you can find a link to a grievance form.

Click here for the Cedar Rapids Community School District's policies on harassment and bullying, where you can find a link to a list of anti-bullying contacts.

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